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Bounty Offered in Pakistan Activist Shooting

Children come back to a school destroyed by the Taliban in Bajuar Agency in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) region in northern Pakistan. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS.

DOHA, Qatar, Oct 10 2012 - The Pakistani government has offered a Rs10 million (105,000-dollar) bounty for the capture of the Pakistani Taliban assailants who shot Malala Yousafzai, a teenage rights and education activist in the northwestern Swat Valley, officials say.

Yousafzai, a 14-year-old schoolgirl, was shot in the head and neck on Tuesday, and has since undergone surgery to remove a bullet lodged in her skull.

She was attacked on her way home from school in Mingora, the main town of Swat Valley, and is being treated at Peshawar’s Combined Military Hospital.

Mian Iftikhar Hussain, information minister of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, told Al Jazeera on Wednesday that Yousafzai had been sedated following her surgery, and that doctors would reassess her condition in 48 hours.

He said that she was in stable condition, but was not out of danger.

“The government has decided to award Rs10 million rupees to whoever helps us identify the attackers and their names will be kept secret,” he said.

Prayers are being offered across the country for Yousafzai’s recovery.

Pakistan’s national airline has placed an air ambulance on standby to take Yousafzai abroad for treatment if needed, government sources said, but medics are wary of lengthy travel times given her unstable condition, while officials have rushed to issue her a passport.

Prayers for recovery

Students at a demonstration in support of the rights activist said that Yousafzai “is like our sister”.

“We pray for her earliest recovery and well-being,” said 14-year-old Shamaila, who goes to the same school as Malala. “We also pray that other students can benefit from Malala’s enlightening views.”

Classmate Brekhna Rahim said Malala “wished to have enough money and build schools in every village for girls in Swat”.

The entire Swat Valley was in shock over the shooting, she said, glued to their televisions and crying as they watched the endlessly repeated scenes of her being stretchered to hospital.

Hussain, the information minister, told Al Jazeera that “every child in (Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa) is under threat”, but the provincial government “doesn’t have the resources” to provide them all with security.

“Schools can be provided security and we’re looking into it. We’re all on target, we are and we will have to face these threats bravely. We’ll definitely provide security to Malala and their family as they are still onthe target list,” he said.

Yousafzai was with her classmates in a school van when unidentified men stopped the vehicle, asking if it belonged to Yousafzai’s school.

One of the gunmen then asked: “Where is Malala?”

As she was identified, the assailant reportedly drew a pistol and shot her in the head and neck. Two other girls on the bus were also wounded. They were treated for their injuries at a nearby hospital.

The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), also known as the Pakistani Taliban, claimed responsibility for the attack.

Ehsanullah Ehsan, a Pakistani Taliban spokesperson, said the group had repeatedly warned Yousafzai to stop speaking out against them.

“She is a Western-minded girl. She always speaks against us,” he said by telephone from an undisclosed location.

“We will target anyone who speaks against the Taliban.

“We warned her several times to stop speaking against the Taliban and to stop supporting Western non-governmental organisations, and to come to the path of Islam.”

Taliban’s justification

The Taliban said it was not only “allowed” to target young girls, but it was “obligatory” when such a person “leads a campaign against Islam and sharia”.

The spokesman also referred to the Quranic story of Hazrat Khizar, who killed a young child, justifying it to Prophet Musa (Moses in other religions), by saying the boy would overburden his pious parents with his disobedience, and that God would “replace” the boy with a more obedient son.

Ehsan said that the Pakistani Taliban had not banned education for girls, “instead, our crime is that we tried to bring the education system for both boys and girls under Islamic law.

“We are deadly against co-education and secular education systems, and Sharia orders us to be against it.”

The group also criticised media coverage of the shooting, saying: “After this incident, (the) media poured out all of its smelly propaganda against Taliban mujahideen with their poisonous tongues.

“…will the blind media pay any attention to the hundreds of respectful sisters whom are in the secret detention centres of ISI (Pakistan’s spy agency) and suffering by their captivity?

“Would you like to put an eye on more than 3,000 young men killed in secret detention centres, whose bodies are found in different areas of Swat, claimed to be killed in encounters and died by cardiac arrest?”

President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf both strongly condemned the attack.

Private schools in the Swat Valley shut their doors in protest on Wednesday, though government schools are opened as per usual.

Taliban resurgence

The local chapter of the TTP, led by Maulana Fazlullah, controlled much of Swat from 2007 to 2009, but were driven out by an army offensive in July 2009.

Local reports indicate, however, that the group was only driven into the surrounding areas, rather than being wiped out, and it has since staged a resurgence.

Tuesday’s shooting in broad daylight in Mingora raises serious questions about security more than three years after the army claimed to have crushed the local Taliban.

Yousafzai rose to international prominence as an 11-year-old in 2009, writing an anonymous diary for BBC Urdu about life under the Taliban, before featuring in two documentaries made by the New York Times.

She also featured in an Al Jazeera documentary.

She had famously stood against the TTP’s attempts to stop girls from going to school, and was awarded the National Peace Award for Youth.

The international children’s advocacy group KidsRights Foundation nominated her for the International Children’s Peace Prize, making her the first Pakistani girl put forward for the award.

Her struggle resonated with tens of thousands of girls who were being denied an education by the Taliban and other armed groups across northwest Pakistan, where the government has been fighting such groups since 2007.

*Published under an agreement with Al Jazeera.

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